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Crossbow
Time Period: 5th century BC to present
Location: Worldwide

The crossbow is different from the bow in the fact that the string can be drawn back and maintained without any human intervention, and then subsequently released by a trigger mechanism. This allowed the user to concentrate on aiming the weapon, and allowed a person of lesser skill to operate as if he were a skilled archer.

The crossbow was independently developed in several geographical areas simultaneously between the 4th and 5th century BC. Evidence is primarly referenced in Greek and Chinese literature, but it is known that many cultures of varying technological capability had access to the crossbow, from highly organized societies to tribal and nomadic peoples.

Crossbows come in many sizes, from those that can be operated by a single person, to giant ballista that require a team of operators. In Greece, the gastrephetes was an important siege weapon used to provide cover while mounting the walls of a heavily defended city. In China, the chu-ko-nu was the most advanced personal infantry weapon in history until the invention of the submachine gun in the 20th century. It is a repeating crossbow that can fire at a rate of roughly two bolts per second. While these bolts are not particularly powerful, they were tipped with poison and their use en masse created a blanket of ranged fire to demoralize and soften an army in preparation for a melee charge.

In Europe the arbalest was a particularly powerful version of the crossbow. This weapon is capable of piercing plated armor, and can fire roughly two bolts per minute. Crossbowmen were vulnerable to return fire which led to the development of a wall shields called pavises to protect the crossbowman while he reloaded. In some countries, a crossbowman was accompanied by a pavisor whose sole responsibility was to keep the shield in place while the crossbowman reloaded.

Modern crossbows are used for sport and for hunting. Their appearance has little in common with historical crossbows, but they have a similar mechanical operation.

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